FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Coming off back-to-back five-win seasons, the Jets open training camp Friday with more hope than they’ve had in years. Much of it stems from a player who hasn’t reported yet.
Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold is the future of the Jets and may very well be the present — that is, once he signs his contract. The expectation is that he will before the Jets take the field for their first practice Friday.
Jets veterans reported for camp Thursday, and much of the talk was about the quarterbacks. It will be for most of this summer and this season after the Jets used the third overall pick on Darnold, a former USC star.
Darnold won’t be handed the starting job, but he is expected to get every chance to earn it in what should be a healthy competition with incumbent Josh McCown and former Viking Teddy Bridgewater, who is trying to prove he’s healthy after a severe knee injury cost him all but one game in the past two seasons.
Either way, the Jets believe they’ll be in good hands now and for the future.
“I think all three of these quarterbacks are just phenomenal quarterbacks,” defensive tackle Leonard Williams said. “I would be happy if any one of them were the starter for the season. Josh is just a great guy, great leader. I can speak on every one of them, and I think that says a lot. I trust any one of those guys.”
Jets coach Todd Bowles knows what he has in McCown, who threw a career-best 18 touchdown passes in 13 games last season. It wouldn’t be surprising if he opened the regular season as the starter, especially with the Jets playing three games in 11 days. But Darnold impressed veterans with his play and how he carried himself in OTAs and minicamp.
“You can just tell that he’s a professional,” Williams said. “The way he comes to practice, the way he approaches the work when he comes here, he’s a great player and I’m happy that we have him. And I’m happy to see how much further he’s going to go and how much harder he’s going to work.”
So are Jets fans who have been hungry for a franchise quarterback.
“He’s mobile,” new cornerback Trumaine Johnson said of Darnold. “He can make every throw. He’s a good quarterback all around.”
“He was a wide-eyed rookie when he came in, but that’s how it should be,” new center Spencer Long said. “He obviously cares. He wants to succeed . . . He’s made a lot of progress. He hit the ground running when he started, don’t get me wrong. You can just tell he cares and wants to get better every day.”
It’s not just the quarterback situation that’s giving the Jets hope that they can make a jump this season.
They’ve improved on the offensive line with the acquisition of Long, a former Redskin, to help a unit that allowed 47 sacks last season.
The Jets also made some upgrades on defense, inking former Titans linebacker Avery Williamson, who has averaged 99.3 tackles the past three years, and adding Johnson to a secondary that could be among the best in the league.
Johnson, a former Ram, joins Morris Claiborne and second-year safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye in the defensive backfield, which should be the strength of the defense. Johnson, who played on some bad Rams teams before they went 11-5 last season and reached the playoffs, believes the Jets could make a jump.
“I’ve been about winning games all my life and getting a little taste of it last year with the Rams, [I’m] bringing that winning culture over here, bringing these guys knowledge,” Johnson said. “The Jets last year, I was watching, they were losing close games. They beat some playoff teams. They got all the potential in the world to be a playoff team.”